Today, I started a two-week "clean eating" thing. The only reason I've lasted this long (approximately 13 hours, one very green smoothie and a salad with no ranch dressing) is because last night, I ate anywhere between one and three cheeseburgers (two of which were actually double cheeseburgers, so really, anywhere between one and, what? Five burgers?) at a Jack in the Box tasting event.
The event was held at an actual Jack in the Box location, located in Hollywood at the corner of Sunset and Cahuenga Boulevards. If you know the area, it's the one across the street from the ArcLight and Amoeba Records. If you know the area, you also know that it wasn't surprising when I walked in and there were a handful of homeless people hanging out inside—at least two club kids in their fishnets and furry hats with nowhere to go, a woman wheeling an entire suitcase across the restaurant to the public bathroom. That's the real Hollywood for you.
The tasting event setup was a little closer to what you might expect from Hollywood, insomuch as there was a red velvet rope sectioning off the section of the Box where we'd eat. I brought my boyfriend (Boyfriend) along, and we mingled with the people putting the event on while we waited for the others. Did you know there's a person in charge of forecasting food trends for fast food restaurants (an "Indian influences are really popular right now. Spain might be in this summer" type of deal)? They're called influencers, if I recall correctly, and that sounds like an awesome job.
While we waited, we tried our first of the new menu items: Jack's Fruit Coolers. There are two flavors, Mango Mayhem and Twisted Strawberry, and for all the chaos their names' promise, they're really just fruit puree and lemon-lime soda. I liked the strawberry one better and, as it has been a constant million degrees here in L.A., it was as refreshing as advertised.
About a dozen people eventually showed up and sat at half a dozen tables. After an intro to the products, they gave us our first burger: The BBQ Ultimate Cheeseburger. Their menu says it is "Two beef patties with American and Swiss-style cheeses, BBQ sauce, and grilled onions on a toasted sesame seed bun" (pictured above).
The burger is good. I don't normally like barbecue sauce on anything that's not barbecue, but the sauce here isn't too overpowering. You can really taste the grilled onions in it. You aren't eating a burger smothered in sauce. I didn't even need a napkin afterwards. It was ultimately Boyfriend's favorite of the three. He ate all of his, then half of mine.
At the next table, an older woman taking notes on a pad of paper asked how long Jack in the Box had been serving curly fries. I don't mean to sound dramatic, but HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW THAT JACK IN THE BOX HAS CURLY FRIES? Jack in the Box curly fries are the reason that I even go to Jack in the Box. Everyone knows about Jack in the Box curly fries. I decided to keep my eye on her. She might be up to no good.
The next burger was the Jalapeño Ranch Ultimate Cheeseburger ("Two beef patties with American and Swiss-style cheese, creamy ranch sauce, and sliced jalapenos on a sesame seed bun") and this was my favorite. You can smell the jalapeños as soon as you open the box. That means they're actually jalapeños. It's a slow burner. You definitely taste the ranch (it's on there thick, which isn't a problem for me because ranch is one of my favorite flavors) and then the jalapeños kick in afterwards to leave you with spice.
This second burger also marked the point in my life when I realized I may not have what it takes to be a food critic. I don't think my palette is refined enough to pick out all the different flavors in a dish, or at least not to have very strong of opinions on those flavors. I don't have picky enough opinions. I'd either eat it or I wouldn't. I would eat this burger.
That said, I overheard a woman at the next table talking about how she didn't like stuff squirting in her mouth (I assume she was talking about the ranch proportions, manageable like the BBQ above). I think I might make a better food critic than her. Less opportunities to shout at me, "THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID." That seem likes an important trait in food criticism. Another gentlemen at her table was whipping around a flipcam—filming the burger, filming himself eating the burger, filming an influencer talking about the burger, filming himself listening to an influencer talk about the burger, now a close-up of the burger—so much that I can only assume the end product will be The Blair Witch Project: Jack in the Box Edition.
That was when Boyfriend joked that the older woman at the next table, the one who didn't know about JACK IN THE BOX CURLY FRIES, looked like Irene Virbila, the notorious Los Angeles Times food critic who was outed by an angry restaurateur (Red Medicine's Noah Ellis, who kicked her out of his restaurant and posted her until-then anonymous face on Tumblr so that "all restaurants can have a picture of her and make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her.") We laughed thinking about Irene Virbila—who has maybe given a single restaurant three stars, and no restaurant ever four, that's how refined her palette is—reviewing Jack in the Box.
By the time the third burger landed on my table, I was starting to get full. Boyfriend told me you just have to barrel through—if you slow down, that's when the fullness strikes. So barrel through we did. Plus, this was the crown jewel of their new menu, after all: the Hella-peño Munchie Meal. If I remember correctly, it's topped with three (3) jalapeño poppers and eight (8) jalapeños. THAT IS A LOT OF JALAPEÑOS.
It's less a jalapeño burger and more like a mass of jalapeños between a bun with some beef, maybe. It's super-messy (nacho cheese, taco sauce), but it's part of their late night "munchie" menu, so that's probably not too big a problem. If you know what I mean. Which, by the way, throughout the event, I noticed Jack in the Box isn't quick to embrace their drunk/stoner audience. Not vocal like, say, Taco Bell. There was a lot of talking around the inebriated, emphasizing their menu is for people that "crave something late at night" and want to "indulge" (examples? "Someone who works a late shift" or a "student studying late." Not sure the last time someone who works a late shift complained about the munchies, but OK).
That was the end. As we said our goodbyes, we asked one of the influencers who the older woman was. CONFIRMED: IRENE VIRBILA. Insane. This means nothing to anyone without a passing interest in the food industry, but a woman lambasted as "unnecessarily cruel and irrational" was taste testing something called a Hella-peño burger. What a world we live in. I can't wait to read what she writes. (UPDATE: Here it is.)
When we got in the car, we texted Boyfriend's parents about the sighting (they're huge fans). His dad responded, "I Irene for Bill [sic] is my favorite. I so miss her restaurant ratings in the food section. It was the best part of reading the paper." You are loved, Irene, and you are missed. Now please stop hogging the curly fries.
Jack in the Box's new summer menu items are available starting Thursday.